HRDs being interviewed by journalists


25th Anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders: What’s Next for this Crucial Instrument?

9 December 2023
25th Anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders

9 December 2023 marks the 25th anniversary of the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups, and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, more commonly known as the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (HRDs). The Declaration’s adoption in 1998 was a huge achievement, and the fact it was adopted by consensus by all Member States of the United Nations General Assembly represented a strong commitment by States to its implementation. 

To mark the 25th anniversary of this crucial instrument for the right to defend human rights, PI and other organizations [1] have undertaken the Declaration +25 project throughout 2023. The Declaration +25 project seeks to enhance awareness of the Declaration; compile legal developments on HRDs and build on gaps in the Declaration; clarify the rights and duties enshrined in the Declaration; provide a substantive rallying point for civil society to reinvigorate respect and support for defenders, and contribute to the creation of an enabling environment for the right to defend human rights; and encourage greater dialogue on the protection needs of HRDs and their civil society organizations (CSOs).

Despite the strides made with the adoption of the Declaration in 1998, the situation for HRDs and their collectives around the world remains dire in many countries. This lack of protection for HRDs and their work can be explained by a lack of implementation of the Declaration, but also by gaps in the text of the Declaration itself. These gaps can in turn be explained by the fact that the Declaration, as an instrument negotiated by States, had to accommodate their varying interests and priorities, which resulted in compromises.

These gaps have since grown due to significant developments over the last 25 years that have given us more insight into the needs of HRDs, which are not reflected in the Declaration. Such developments include the various resolutions that are adopted by the United Nations General Assembly every two years on the situation of HRDs, as well as the input gathered by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of HRDs whose mandate was created in 2000, just to name a few.

Declaration +25 project: A supplement to the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders

One of the main outcomes of the Declaration +25 project will therefore be a supplement to the Declaration, “the Declaration +25” which will be a civil society-led document, endorsed by experts, that will consider:

  • How international and regional jurisprudence in relation to HRDs has developed over the last 25 years;
  • Changes in national, regional, and global contexts; and
  • Evolutions of human rights movements and activism.

The Declaration +25 supplement will also seek to address key gaps and limitations in the Declaration, reflecting HRDs’ experiences and needs.

Consultations with HRDs have taken place across the globe throughout 2023 to capture these developments, changes, and evolutions, as well as defenders’ needs, all of which will be reflected in the supplement. PI led two of these consultations: the first in Spain in September, and the second in Kenya in October. The adoption of the Declaration +25 supplement is expected to take place in the first half of 2024.

On this 25th anniversary of the Declaration on HRDs, PI is excited to see what is next for this landmark instrument. We are proud to take part in the Declaration +25 project and look forward to the creation of the Declaration +25 supplement. We are hopeful that its content will better reflect the realities and protection needs of HRDs, and that it will help us all – individuals, groups, and organs of society – proudly stand for the right to defend human rights.  

See what HRDs from around the world have to say about the Declaration on HRDs in the pictures below.

[1] The Declaration +25 project is implemented jointly with other organizations, including Amnesty International, CIVICUS, Defend Defenders, Forum Asia, Front Line Defenders, FIDH, Gulf Centre for Human Rights, ICNL, ILGA World, ISHR, IM Defensoras, MENA WHRD Coalition, and OMCT. Other key stakeholders are involved and/or support the project, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of HRDs, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Special Rapporteur on Environmental Defenders.